Being the principal owner/operator of Rainshadow Farm, and because I have met more women than men engaged with ecological or organic farming/ranching in the southwestern Mojave Desert, I have become quite interested in the plight of women farmers, at all scales of operation. Unfortunately Guthman’s (2004) extensive study of alternative agriculture in California does not deal specifically with gender. Women are currently at the forefront of alternative agriculture in the United States and studies of gender and food-raising have indicated that traditional farmers include women as key participants. Worldwide, women are profoundly involved in food production, particularly small-scale household gardening/farming. The well-studied, worldwide inclination for women to care for human-scale subsistence food production either in partnership with males or as sole proprietors of farms/ranches extends to the southern Mojave Desert as well.
While researching sustainable farming practices in the southwestern Mojave Desert, the commercial growers I have encountered have nearly all been women with few exceptions. The owner/operator of the most stable, longest-running, High Desert Farmers’ Market is a single woman, with a staff of four women. This is not to say that men are not involved in growing and marketing food in the southern Mojave in larger numbers than my research encountered; only that many men did not return my calls or emails.
Like many women I have had the experience of sometimes being marginalized or even ignored in academic situations. I have observed the feeling that women often call “being invisible” when I make a suggestion, only to hear the same idea come from a male colleague and receive confirmation. Is this invisibility applicable in the world of farming? The women farmers I have spoken to have told me that this does not occur with a great deal of frequency around them. These are often, in my opinion, formidable women. One woman, involved deeply in local sustainable food systems told me, “I’ve experienced the attempt to marginalize me, but that lasts about two seconds until they realize I will not be intimidated.” My friend, a local commercial grower, has found her own ways of dealing with the same kind of bias. Both of these women are open, compassionate, and generous women; yet they have found a way to keep their work and ideas from being suppressed.
While I do not frequently feel as fearless as my friends appear to be – I am willing to boldly share “ownership” of ideas that promote sustainable foodways by getting ideas out there both as a teacher and a farmer. Are ideas property? In academia, perhaps to some they are. In farming, particularly sustainable farming, I think it best to open up the gates and let the ideas get out to as many people as possible. Farm pedagogy could be one way of opening those gates of local knowledge and wisdom.
(To be continued…)
Guthman, Julie. (2004). Agrarian dreams: The paradox of organic farming in California. Berkeley: University of California Press.